Chinese documentary raises the flag for freedom
It is a work in progress, but the 20-minute documentary film that artist Yang Weidong released in Hong Kong yesterday has already produced some definite results.
It is a work in progress, but the 20-minute documentary film that artist Yang Weidong released in Hong Kong yesterday has already produced some definite results. IT IS a work in progress, but the 20-minute documentary film that artist Yang Weidong released in Hong Kong yesterday has already produced some definite results.The film, titled Need in Chinese and Signal in English, asked a cross-section of China's leading creative professionals - 151 so far - a simple question: what do Chinese people need?"Freedom," says leading film director Jia Zhangke."I need freedom of speech," says Mao Yushi, a public intellectual who has mentored many of China's leading economists."More free space for creative work," says composer Zhang Xiaofu, a central figure in Chinese electronic music."I need free access to information," says Yang Yang, an entrepreneur."In particular it's freedom of speech and freedom of press, in general it's democracy. In detail, it's multi-party elections," says Ye Fu, a fiction writer."Chinese people need morality, and law," says scholar He Xiongfei.Yang interviewed retired senior officials, too."I need government to respect the rule of law, and human rights," says Cai Dingjian, formerly a member of the legal affairs committee of the National People's Congress.Yang plans to interview 500 leading civil society figures and to make more documentaries based on simple questions about Chinese aspirations.Already, however, his portrait of what Chinese people really want is at odds with the priorities of development, stability and national power that Chinese leaders are pursuing in their names.Yang's interviewees are not confined to those with known liberal leanings and he asks no leading questions.Most answers to his first question - what do you need? - revolve around the ideals of freedom, democracy, rule of law and morality. But some are more prosaic."Like everybody, I need money," says rock musician He Yong."I don't want for anything," says Chen Ershou, a leading geologist."Never thought about this question," says philosopher Wu Guosheng.The riddle at the centre of Yang's documentary, which is centred on China's thirst for freedom, is the fact that he was able to make it in Beijing and to travel to Hong Kong to release it. It shows a measure of intellectual freedom in China can exist for those with the courage - and strategic cunning - to create it.The preface that Yang wrote in his accompanying book, also released yesterday, hints at how he carved out his own small space.Yang describes himself as coming from a ''red family'', as his grandfather was a revolutionary martyr who joined the Chinese Communist Party when it was just four years old, in 1925.His mother was a doctor who headed the national sports medical team when China was just beginning its mighty rise to the top of the gold medal tables.While Yang's grandfather has been honoured for his political ideals, the rest of his family has been punished for them.Yang's mother was stripped of her status and retirement benefits after steadfastly opposing sports doping. The punishment extended to Yang's brother, who was purged from his own promising medical career as soon as it began."Since the 1970s my mother resolutely opposed and resisted using performance drugs and so she has been persecuted by the training bureau of the Sports Commission,'' he writes in his book preface."In 2007, my father passed away during a vicious attack by relevant people from the General Administration of Sport," writes Yang, referring to the body that was previously called the Sports Commission.It was this last shock that led Yang to begin his documentary project.Yang describes how China's security apparatus has taken a keen interest in his work and searched his house."They summoned me many times for my interviewing many 'sensitive people' and threatening the state's political stability ? and they attempted to stop my regular work," he said. They could have stopped Yang's project at any time - but they never did. Perhaps an account of Yang's family history, if it were to come to light, would be more politically threatening than his documentary.